SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Jan) – The National Democratic Front in the Philippines-Northeastern Mindanao Regional (NDFP-NEMR) has called off the release of the three policemen who are captives of the New People’s Army because of the military’s refusal to temporarily withdraw their community organizers.
“The NDFP-NEMR regrets to inform the relatives and friends, the Third Party Facilitators and the general public that the release of three PNP personnel is cancelled,” said Ka Maria Malaya, spokesperson of the NDFP-NEMR.
The NDFP, in an email Thursday, said the cancellation was due chiefly to the AFP’s refusal to temporarily withdraw their Community Organizing for Peace Development (COPD) operatives from the area.
PO1 Jonry M. Amper was taken in Malimono town in Surigao del Norte last Nov. 12 while PO3 Democrito Polvorosa Jr. and PO1 Marichel Unclara Contemplo were seized in Alegria town of the same province last Nov. 16.
“To facilitate the safe and orderly release of the three prisoners of war and to avoid possible encounter between the NPA and the AFP, the NDFP-NEMR requested that AFP units conducting COPD operations in Barangays Sico-sico and Camam-onan, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte to temporarily withdraw to their base camp in Brgy. Mahanub [in] Gigaquit … even as the personnel of the Brgy. Sico-sico detachment remain in place,” Malaya said.
She lamented that despite negotiations, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Ponce, head of the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade, refused to grant the request to pull out COPD operatives. Malaya said Ponce’s position “seriously endangered not only the lives of the 3 POWs but of their family and loved ones and others” who wish to witness the release.
“The NDFP-NEMR deemed it necessary to call off the release and ordered the NPA Custodial Force to relocate to a safer place,” Malaya added.
The release of the three POWs was meant to be a gesture of peace during the papal visit and in response to the ardent request of the family to be reunited with their loved ones, she said.
Malaya said this is also a confidence-building measure for the resumption of the peace talks between the NDFP and the GPH.
She noted that the “simple request” of the NPA Custodial Force, the family, the local Third Party Facilitators, the Local Crisis Committee of Surigao del Norte, the chairman of the Peace and Order Council of Caraga (Butuan Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr.) and the office of the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government would not have been “difficult to consider” by the AFP.
“In spite of the AFP’s outright refusal, we thank all those who genuinely gave effort to somehow make the release possible,” Malaya said.
In a radio interview this morning, Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, spokesperson of the NDFP-Mindanao, told the military to respect civilian authority. “People have been requesting for the temporary pullout of military forces for this purpose but they still refused,” he said.
The captives were supposed to be freed before Christmas but due to military presence in hinterlands in Surigao del Norte, the NPA did not push through with the release.
On January 6, the NDFP-Mindanao issued a release order for the three policemen.
Unfortunately, government and military officials have been mum on the issue since late last year.
Earlier today, MindaNews attempted but failed to contact Gov. Sol Matugas and provincial administrator Primolito Plaza, who is spokesperson of the Crisis Committee. Lt. Col. Arsenio Sadural, commanding officer of the 30th Infantry Battalion which has jurisdiction in the area, likewise refused to comment.